To Dye For
Chasing the blues away during a weekend upstate with indigo queen and designer Kalen Kaminski
Kalen Kaminski, founder and designer of womenswear line Upstate (which is actually made in Brooklyn), is a connoisseur of beautiful moments. Full disclosure: She is also one of my closest friends. For as long as I’ve known her, Kaminski will stop dead in the middle of a street, dance party, day at the beach—anywhere, anytime—and exclaim, “Look at that beautiful moment happening over there!” as she gestures to a seashell formation or a dead branch fallen just so. It’s no surprise, then, that the vibrant, breezily shaped clothes she designs—like the floor-sweeping, curve-hugging Palm dress or the multipurpose raw silk sarong—are truly beautiful moments in themselves.
To celebrate the recent launch of her home collection—which includes dip-dyed pillows, cozy throw blankets, and calming indigo duvet covers that could lull even the most restless of us to sleep—Kaminski invited a few friends to the Spruceton Inn in New York’s Catskills to teach us the art of shibori, the Japanese tie-dyeing technique that provides the signature look of her brilliant creations. During our weekend nestled in the peaceful green mountains of her label’s namesake (literally, upstate), Kaminski sat down to talk about bucking tradition, fearlessness, and the secret of her success.
How did Upstate start, and how has it changed?
I started Upstate with two friends as a passion project in 2010. We started making these intricately hand-dyed shibori scarves on raw silk, intending to sell to friends and maybe have an Etsy shop. Then we were picked up by five great boutiques straight away. At the time it felt like a really fresh and unique product; we like to think that we had a hand in pioneering this major trend! Now I’m sans business partners, and Upstate has developed into a full ready-to-wear women’s line, not only focusing on hand dye but also bringing in other beautiful, luxurious fabrics. I’ve also just launched a home collection. Upstate seems to have a mind of its own at this point, which is really exciting and sometimes challenging.
Recently you’ve started hosting more “dye parties” where people can learn shibori techniques. Why did you decide to start teaching?
Upstate is not a traditional fashion line. I don’t have much of an interest in Fashion Week and presentations. However, it’s important to me to meet my clientele and explain Upstate’s story. The dye workshops not only give me face time with my consumer, but everyone leaves the workshop with an Upstate memento, too. Also, it’s super fun and a nice way to spend an afternoon.
What was your favorite “beautiful moment” of our weekend upstate?
Pippa [the shoot’s still-life photographer] and I woke up before everyone else and took a walk with our coffee. We discovered this old, dilapidated barn and had an impromptu photo shoot. Also, sitting by the campfire, looking at the stars, and making new friends…and s’mores!
Do you have any tips for burgeoning entrepreneurs?
It really comes down to the hustle. I’m a firm believer that the universe rewards hard work. I completed a mini MBA program at the Fashion Institute of Technology, which was instrumental to Upstate’s growth. We were forced to dissect every element of our business and figure out what’s working, what’s not, how to fix it, etc. Also, never stop reaching out and meeting with experts. You never know what you’ll learn. Finally, be okay with change. Small businesses are constantly evolving, so it’s important to grow and face these changes. Be fearless.
You’re very much in the “work hard, play hard” camp. What’s your secret to maintaining a balance?
I have countless to-do lists. I’ve learned to prioritize and delegate—delegation is the key to success. I also make it a goal to drink three liters of water a day, which I believe is crucial to feeling good.
Who do you look to for inspiration?
My grandmother has amazing taste and style. I have found some great gems in her closet throughout the years. My girlfriends are also an amazing source for inspiration. They all hold true to their unique senses of style, and it always inspires a new shape or color scheme in my collection.
What is your dream escape?
I would love to escape to a hut on a beach, eat fresh seafood every day, read, do yoga, and, most important, be completely disconnected from my phone, social media, and emails.
Name your three most essential items for traveling.
My Upstate sarong—it’s the perfect coverup, blanket, towel, or dress; I never go on a vacation without one. My Hazy Wade swimsuit; it’s basic yet effortless. And my “Tiki Surf” Nova perfume roll-ons. If I’m traveling for work, these scents transport me right back to my happy place.